The Big Ten really, really, really needs Nebraska and Ohio State to win their remaining football games.
Having two teams in the top 10 of the final rankings is the coat of polish necessary to dress up a scratched-and-dented season — and it would produce some compelling story lines now and for the future.
Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999. But beating comatose Iowa this week and Wisconsin the following week in the Big Ten title game would end that drought.
The Huskers also haven’t finished in the final top 10 since 2001. Winning the Rose Bowl (against Oregon?) would finish that dry spell in emphatic fashion.
(By the way, what a gruesome trip down memory lane in looking up the final polls for NU the past 10 years: 24th, 20th, 14th, no ranking, no ranking, no ranking, 24th, no ranking, 19th, no ranking).
Meanwhile, Ohio State, with a win against Michigan this week, would complete its NCAA-penalized season 12-0, giving it the chance to finish as the nation’s only undefeated team should Notre Dame stumble against USC or in its bowl game.
The Buckeyes still likely wouldn’t rise to the top of the Associated Press poll because of the Big Ten’s overall weakness. But at least it would get the league a sorely needed entry point into the national football discussion.
Now, consider the possibilities for next season.
Ohio State and Nebraska return the league’s top quarterbacks in Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez, plus many of their other offensive weapons.
OSU and NU also get generous rearrangements of their Big Ten schedules. The Buckeyes drop Nebraska and Michigan State to add Iowa and Northwestern. The Huskers drop Ohio State and Wisconsin to add Illinois and Purdue.
It’s not outrageous to speculate that Ohio State from the Leaders Division and Nebraska from the Legends could go into the 2013 Big Ten title game undefeated — if there is end-of-the-2012-season momentum to ride.
For the Big Ten, having two of its four legacy programs high in the final rankings this season and in the national title talk for 2013 would make the coming winter much more tolerable.
Other things to think about:
ĽBig Ten expansion: Saturday’s reports that Maryland and Rutgers are possible new Big Ten members would have been labeled a bombshell a few years ago, but not now. It’s normal course of business.
Live college football broadcasts are pure gold to the burgeoning broadcast and webcast industry. With those entities begging you to accept their money, it would be dereliction of duty not to add more TV sets and expand your footprint.
Competition-wise, Maryland and Rutgers don’t exactly spin my dial. The Terrapins are shaky at quarterback and last nationally in total offense, which I guess makes them a Big Ten natural.
But the two schools would insert the Big Ten into the powerhouse media centers of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
(People tend to have a misconception about Rutgers. It’s no small-time operation. Rutgers is the University of New Jersey, with enrollment of 58,000. And the high school football in that state is strong.)
When Nebraska was in discussions to join the Big Ten in the spring of 2010, I asked my TV friends if the league would stop at 12. Every one said the number they heard to eventually maximize value was 14.
If the Big Ten goes to 14 and takes eastern schools, the immediate conclusion is that Wisconsin would move to the Legends Division.
But that would really throw off the balance of power in football. Look for Jim Delany to re-rack the divisions — and hopefully rename them while he’s at it.
ĽBowl games: Ohio State and Penn State can’t go because of NCAA sanctions.
Projections as of now: Rose Bowl in Pasadena (Nebraska), Capital One in Orlando (Michigan), Outback in Tampa (Wisconsin), Gator in Jacksonville (Northwestern), Buffalo Wild Wings in Phoenix (Minnesota).
That leaves three contracted bowl slots open (Heart of Dallas, Meineke Car Care in Houston, Little Caesars in Detroit), and two teams with a chance to get bowl eligible (Michigan State, Purdue).
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